Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ice cream trucks' old-time cool melts away


The ice cream man pulls into the Shore Acres Center, blasting I'm a Little Teapot as a line of cars waits to pass him. A blond lifeguard in a lavender swimsuit walks up to the truck. "Okay," she says, as if finally settling a long dispute. "Four blue and two orange." Bill Watterson leans into a freezer and scrapes flavored ice into perfect domes. He garnishes the slushees with plastic spoons. The macaroni-and-cheese colored van shudders into the neighborhood. Watterson doesn't expect much out of the route.

His right hand switches between the clutch on the van and the dial on the music box; his clear blue eyes search for customers.

A decade ago, Watterson, 59, could hardly drive down these streets for all the stops. Children everywhere. Now, they're playing video games in the air conditioning. Enjoying their high-speed Internet. Eating treats from their own freezers. Dieting.

He turns down a street wondering if he's too early for Eddie, a favorite customer who naps until 4 p.m.

But here he comes, running across the lawn with some kind of liquid spilled down his shirt. "Hi!" says the round-faced boy who's brave around the ice cream man.

"Which one today?" Watterson asks, leaning down to face him. Eddie looks at the menu on the side of the van — eye level for a 2-year-old — with great concentration. "You want orange? You want SpongeBob today?" Watterson asks.

The boy points to the smiling yellow sea creature. Watterson sees behind the translucent menu where his finger lands.

He's seen Eddie grow, remembers asking his expecting mother, "When's that new customer going to show up?" and laughing when Eddie learned what sweetness his van brings.

Driving down a maze of nearly empty streets, Watterson passes three teenagers who turn up the bass to drown out his dinging.

A cardboard sign written in purple and pink marker reads, "Free Kittens." A smoky cat observes from the living room window, but no children appear.

Then, by an expansive shade tree, some boys are playing. Watterson parks the van in the cool shade of the branches.

With a dollar in each hand, Michael Colton, 9, looks at the faded pictures on the menu. "Is, um, the everyday Sunday cone actually blue?"

"No." Watterson understands that he's talking about flavor, not color. "It's vanilla ice cream."

"Can I have a blue slushee?"

Michael is playing with Rami Mari, 9, a neighbor he considers a kind of brother because they shared a slushee at age 5. They're trying to catch a squirrel and planning the next Lord of the Rings movie.

As Watterson drives off, the boys wave and dig in their spoons.

The suburban streets are spotted with overgrown lawns, and Watterson notices how many houses are for sale.

Watterson works seven days a week. On weekday mornings, he repairs wheelchairs and oxygen tanks at a medical supply company. He takes it easier on summer Sundays and visits just one neighborhood.

Today he's put $45 in his pocket, a pretty good haul. On his way home, where he lives alone, he'll fill up the gas tank. He figures he's used about $14 just driving the route.

But for now, the children are expecting him.

Three boys dance around the driveway when they hear him coming. One holds an upside-down dollar bill above his head.

Bailey Arnold, 7, and Brayden Arnold, 6, wear matching swimsuits. They're celebrating their friend Dallas Bialobrzeski's ninth birthday. They order a lick-a-color, a sour cyclone, and a cherry screwball, respectively.

As Watterson drives away, he flips the music box to play Happy Birthday.

Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or [email protected]

Ice cream trucks' old-time cool melts away 09/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 5:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. College basketball scandal dips into Tampa Bay


    Tuesday's national college basketball scandal has recruiting ties to Tampa Bay.

    In this March 15, 2012, file photo, San Diego State assistant coach Tony Bland, left, talks during NCAA college basketball practice in Columbus, Ohio. Bland was identified in court papers, and is among 10 people facing federal charges in Manhattan federal court, Tuesday in a wide probe of fraud and corruption in the NCAA, authorities said. [AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File]
  2. Datz to open in St. Petersburg, join the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art

    Food & Dining

    Now Datz news.

    Get it? Tuesday, Datz, the longtime line-out-the-door, oft-Instagrammed and -Yelped Tampa stalwart known for shock-and-awe sandwiches and oh-so-much bacon, announced it is coming to St. Petersburg.

    Lunch guest eat at Datz Deli at 2616 South MacDill Ave. in Tampa. Times files.
  3. Republican leader McConnell pulls the plug on latest Obamacare repeal effort

    WASHINGTON --- Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday officially pulled the plug on the latest plan to repeal the health care law, telling senators they will not vote on the measure and effectively admitting defeat in the last-gasp drive to fulfill a core promise of President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, after the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as education secretary. DeVos was approved by the narrowest of margins, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in a historic vote. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) DCSA119
  4. Lightning's Brayden Point could be perfect fit alongside Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov

    Lightning Strikes

    SUNRISE — Brayden Point ended last season as the Lightning's No. 1 center, thrust into the role as a rookie due to injuries.

    Lightning center Brayden Point (21) advances the puck through the neutral zone during Friday's preseason game against the Nashville Predators. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  5. For starters: Rays at Yankees, with Blake Snell starting, Wilson Ramos cashing in


    The Rays open their final road series of the season tonight at Yankee Stadium, which is also where they played their first of the season.

    LHP Blake Snell will be on the mound for the Rays, looking to continue his successful late-season run, in which he is 4-0, 2,57 over his last eight starts.

    Tonight marks Wilson Ramos' 55th start of the season.